Lok Sabha passes anti-terror bill

The Lok Sabha on Wednesday approved a bill to amend an anti-terror law aimed at allowing the government to designate “an individual as a terrorist” with Home Minister Amit Shah asserting this is of “prime importance” to “nip terrorism” in the bud.

Stoutly defending the amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act(UAPA) to make it “strict”, Shah also allayed fears of the opposition parties on its misuse, saying it will keep the investigation agencies “four steps” ahead of the militants.  

Replying to a debate on the bill before it was passed by voice vote, Shah said though it will not be misused against any individual, yet, those who engage in militant activities against the security and sovereignty of the country, including the ‘urban maoists’, would not be spared by the investigating agencies either.

Shah said, “the objective of the proposed amendments is to facilitate speedy investigation and prosecution of terror offences and designating an individual as terrorist in line with the international practices.”

“An individual’s psychology is the birth place of terrorism, rather than an institution. If, in the first place, an individual is stopped from attracting other individuals into terrorism by providing ideological and financial support, this menace can be finished,” he said.

“Hence, designating an individual as terrorist, after following the due process of law, is of “prime importance to nip terrorism in the bud,” the Union Home Minister said.

 The anti-terror law, so far, only had provisions to ban groups as individual groups, not individuals.

The Bill additionally empowers the officers of the NIA, of the rank of Inspector or above, to investigate cases. Under the Act, the investigation may be conducted by officers only of the rank of Deputy Superintendent or Assistant Commissioner of Police or above.

The opposition Congress and the TMC boycotted the proceedings ahead of voting on the bill.

“What can we do we, if you are boycotting the proceedings as you are angry over vote bank,” Shah said.

Shah said, “fighting terror must not be held hostage to political considerations. Members must rise above political considerations and whole heartedly support a strict law for fighting terrorism and keep the investigation agencies four steps ahead of the militants.”

Hitting out at the Congress for opposing the amendments, he said if the UPA was correct in amending anti-terror laws in their tenure, then so is the NDA.

 He said, in the name of ideology, some people promote ‘urban Maoism’, a term used by the BJP and its ideological allies for those it blames for supporting Maoists. “In the name of ideology, some people promote urban Maoism. We have no sympathy for them,” he said.

“Left wing violence was initially considered ideological and gullible people were misguided to kill others,” he said.

“The only purpose of this law is to root out terrorism. We will ensure that this law will not be misused,” he added.

The Congress under the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had brought in UAPA, he said, targeting the opposition party, whose members earlier questioned the rationale behind the law.

“Radical preachers are propagating ideology of hate and terrorism,” Shah said.

 “It is the priority of the government to root out terrorism,” he said, adding, “Our commitment to uproot terrorism has remained steadfast irrespective of where we were, whether in Government or not”.

Shah said there are no changes being made in arrest or bail provisions.  Therefore, it is clear that there will be no violation of fundamental rights of any person, he said.

Also, the burden of proof is on the investigating agency and not on the accused. This provision has not been changed, he added.

Defending the proposed amendment to give powers to Director General, National Investigation Agency(NIA) to attach properties acquired from proceeds of terrorism, Shah said a strict law is fruitful only when it is practically implementable.

Currently, the law requires that NIA take prior permission from the respective state DGP to start investigation in terror cases. This delays the process, he said.  The Minister said that the amendment about attaching properties acquired through proceeds of terrorism is being proposed in order to expedite investigation in terror cases and is not against the federal principles.

“Some (opposition) members said that we have destroyed the federal structure by bringing this amendment. If the federal structure has been destroyed then it was destroyed during the UPA time as the law was enacted then,” he said.

“If somebody indulges in terrorist activities then definitely the NIA will seize his computers and other devices,” he added.

Participating in the debate, Karti Chidambaram(Congress) accused the government of destroying the federal structure and individual liberty by the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019.

The member said he wondered whether such a stringent law would have prevented Pathankot or Pulwama attack. The Congress member expressed the fear that future governments can misuse the amended law.